Lesson Plan: Introduction to Archival Research

I really enjoyed this lesson plan that I used in my English 201: Writing Wisconsin class. Feel free to adapt this to your classrooms!


Homework: Students were asked to bring in 2-3 objects that represented their experience as a student at the university. The one “rule” was that they had to be comfortable with other students handling and examining the objects.


Lesson Plan/Handout to Students on Class Day

This activity will help us ask some important questions about archival research. We’ll start by filling out a sheet for each object, each creating a catalog entry for the object. You are free to talk to others around you about how they are describing and categorizing their objects. Think about what kinds of research a person might use your object to conduct when doing this description. Make sure to describe any “handling rules” you have about the object, such as no touching, no photographing, etc. I encourage you to be very specific about these rules.

After we complete this, you’ll switch roles from being an archivist to a researcher. Place your objects on the table and stand up and walk around. Take a lap around the room and think about all the objects here. What’s a central theme that ties some of the objects together? For example, you might think about the

  • material nature of objects (plastic, paper, etc.)
  • symbols on the objects (W, Badgers, etc.)
  • potential use of the objects
  • and so on

Try to connect up at least 5 objects. When you’ve done this, take a close look at each object in your grouping. Think about some of the following questions:

  • How has the former archivist cataloged it?
  • Would you be able to find all of these objects under one subject heading?
  • Are there handling rules that would make your research easier? harder?

You can use the chart I’ve made on the back of this sheet to jot down notes about each object and how it is positioned in our archive.

For the last part of class, spend about 5 minutes or writing about what you’re grouping of objects might say about student life. You should also write about what objects in the archive felt out of place. We’ll use this to have a quick discussion about what “archival thinking” can look like!

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